Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of May 26th

posted May 28, 2019, 4:56 PM by Courtney Richardson

Feeling Discouraged? Look back! 
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I lean heavily toward optimism, but I have to admit there are times when I get discouraged, especially when students don’t make the progress I expect. How can we maintain optimism despite the daily setbacks and frustrations of teaching? I’m convinced it’s by looking back. When you’re feeling down, remember those children you thought would never make it, the ones who gave you the most sleepless nights. Then remember the elation you felt when those same kids finally made a breakthrough and began to progress. Keep looking back! Teachers not only make a difference, teachers ARE the difference! We must never let ourselves forget that.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of May 19th

posted May 20, 2019, 7:06 PM by Courtney Richardson

I recently had a wonderful conversation with Greg and Jen from West Dubuque School District. Click below to hear this engaging podcast about guided reading: How Guided Reading Works.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of May 6, 2019

posted May 6, 2019, 6:31 PM by Courtney Richardson

Read Alouds + Chapter 7 = Powerful Instruction Combination
Chapter 7 of Next Steps Forward and high-quality picture books are a perfect combination! Students, not only need, but deserve rich literacy experiences that exemplify excellence and equity. The use of high-quality picture books during read-alouds can provide an entry point into engaging instruction that demonstrates how to use comprehension strategies and develops core knowledge, expanding students’ understanding of the world.

1. Start by selecting a high-quality picture book that will interest students and connect or expand knowledge of cultures, backgrounds, or concepts found in other content areas. Look for a variety of text types and genres connected to other disciplines such as Science, Social Studies, Mathematics and the Arts. Lists of award winning texts can be found at and Additionally, consider texts by authors in your city, region, or state.
2. Read through the text several times, paying careful attention to how you construct meaning as a reader. Consider the following questions to determine what rich elements the text contains and at what level readers have the opportunity to engage (Gold & Gibson, 2019).
  • Is it a good story?
  • Is it worth sharing with my students?
  • Does the story sound good to the ear when read aloud?
  • Will it appeal to your students?
  • Will students find the text relevant to their lives and culture?
  • Will the text spark conversation?
  • Will the text motivate deeper topical understanding?
  • Does the text inspire students to find or listen to another book on the same topic? By the same author? Written in the same genre?
  • Is the text memorable?
  • Will students want to hear or read the story again?
3. Select a comprehension strategy from Chapter 7 that matches your standards, meets the needs of your students, and can be taught using the selected text. Keep in mind that really great texts can often be used to teach multiple strategies! Personally, these are my favorites! 
4. Construct a series of lessons (2-3 days) using an interactive read aloud format for whole group instruction. Plan your lessons by looking for three to four stopping points within the text to pause and teach the comprehension strategy. Use a gradual release model at each stopping point, placing more of the work on students each time.
5. Use the first day in the sequence of your lessons as a straight read aloud through the text, keeping any pausing to a minimum and stopping only to highlight vocabulary, complex structures, or illustrations. This will allow students to take in the entire story. Consider asking students to apply a retelling strategy (BME or 5 Finger Retell) once the text is completed. 
6. The next day, do a quick review of the text and teach new vocabulary words using the four steps for vocabulary introduction. At the first stopping point, teach students how to apply the selected comprehension strategy. During each consecutive stopping point, ask student partnerships to work together, practicing the comprehension strategy as you provide support and scaffolding.
7. The following day use the same text and format to teach a deeper level comprehension strategy, Modules 23-28, or construct a shared writing piece together.
8. Consider revisiting portions of the book and teaching mini-lessons that push deeper into writing about the text, foundational literacy skills, word knowledge, or author’s craft on additional days.

Combining read alouds with comprehension instruction is one of the most powerful practices you can implement in your classroom. It levels the playing field and allows for ALL readers to collaboratively practice and engage with texts at a deep, sophisticated level. Meticulous selecting of texts along with intentional planning can enrich the reading lives of your students and lead to more meaningful comprehension when reading independently.

Gold, J. & Gibson, A. (2019). Reading aloud to build comprehension. Retrieved from

Written by: Debbie Rosenow, Next Steps Literacy Consultant,

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 28th

posted Apr 28, 2019, 6:08 PM by Courtney Richardson

Word Study Coming Soon!
I’m putting the finishing touches on The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, co-authored with Michele Dufresne. Michele and I do three things in this new book: 1) We explain why word study should be part of every guided reading lesson, 2) We present a practical method for teaching word study at each reading stage, and 3) We offer instructional guidance and sample lesson plans to make word study effective and easy to implement. Scholastic will release the book this fall. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 21st

posted Apr 21, 2019, 8:42 PM by Courtney Richardson

Rescue Me!
As a research project, I’ve been working with a second-grade student who is reading significantly below grade level. While I was reading with her last week, I noticed she kept turning her head to look at me, sometimes for confirmation and other times to see if I would rescue her. Of course, whenever she turned her head, she lost her place in the book. I knew we needed to change this. At first, I said, "Don’t look at me. You need to look at the book." That brought her attention back to the book, but it didn’t stop her from looking at me the next time. Finally, I held up a folder between my face and hers. She stopped looking at me, kept her eyes on the page, and read much better! Sometimes a simple solution is right there in front of our eyes. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 14th

posted Apr 14, 2019, 8:24 PM by Courtney Richardson

Prompting during reading is the heart of a guided reading lesson. It is essentially a personal reading conference with the goal of improving each student’s processing system. A teacher recently asked me, “What’s the best way to plan for the prompting part of the lesson?” Here are the five top prompts and when to use them:
1. Monitor for meaning – If a student ignores an error that disturbs the meaning of the sentence, say, Are you right? Does that make sense?
2. Monitor for visual information – If a student says a word that makes sense (e.g. run for ran) but doesn’t notice the error, say, Does that look right? Check here. Place your pencil tip on the part of the word the student is ignoring.
3. Decoding – If the student notices the error, but struggles to correct it, teach an appropriate word-solving strategy. You might say, Find a part you know. Cover the ending and see if that helps you. Can you think of a word you know that looks like that?
4. Fluency – If the student reads accurately but slowly, it’s time to prompt for fluency and phrasing. First, make sure the student is reading without pointing to each word. Pointing will slow a reader down. Second, work on expression. You might have to model how the character would say it. Third, slide your finger from left to right to cover the words as the student reads. This pushes the student’s eye forward at a faster pace.
5. Comprehension – Comprehension is the goal of every guided reading lesson. Ask a question about the text. Use prompts that check for literal comprehension (What happened on this page?) or deeper thinking (Why did he or she do that? What are you thinking?). 
If you find there is nothing to teach, the book is probably too easy. Choose a harder book for the next lesson. Remember, there should be something to teach in every guided reading lesson.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 7th

posted Apr 7, 2019, 6:47 PM by Courtney Richardson

Would you like to have more parent engagement?
Parent engagement is a critical component toward accelerating struggling readers. Ellen Lewis, my coauthor on Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention, has written a wonderful post on EDU, Scholastic’s blog about education and learning. It describes a parent engagement event you can easily implement at your school.To learn more, click here

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 31st

posted Mar 31, 2019, 3:17 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Mar 31, 2019, 3:18 PM ]

RISE Intervention
My newest book, The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention: The RISE Framework, co-authored with Ellen Lewis, describes an intensive reading intervention framework built around the guided reading components from Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. Small groups of students rotate through four stations: Read a New Book, Word Study, Reread Yesterday’s New Book, and Guided Writing. Field-testing with over 1,000 students has shown the average lift to be one text level every two weeks! To learn more about this targeted, short-term, effective, and new approach to intervention, see the handout below.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 24th

posted Mar 28, 2019, 9:08 AM by Courtney Richardson

Teaching Test-Taking Strategies (Part 2) 
Last week I gave some tips on helping students read test passages. This week I’ll focus on strategies that help students answer test questions. Students will need the Test-taking Strategies card (insert link).
Strategies for Answering Questions:
Step 1 – The first step involves understanding the question. Teach students how to identify key words in the question. These words often include academic language such as compare, analyze, determine, etc.). 
Step 2 - Now students should paraphrase the question using the key words they identified in Step 1. This helps them focus their attention and clarify the purpose of the question. By paraphrasing the question, their processing is slowed down providing time for readers to comprehend what the question is truly asking.  Students who struggle with reading tests often jump to the multiple-choice answers and look for something that may have been in the passage, but that may not answer the question. 
Step 3 – Now readers need to decide if they need to look back in the text. Once students know where to look, they can lean on the comprehension strategies you have taught them in guided reading. For example, if the question is asking for a comparison, readers can think of what they know about answering yellow questions. Or if a question asks which statement would be included in a summary of the text, they can quickly use the Somebody-Wanted-But-So for the text and choose the answer that best fits. 
Step 4 – Finally, it is important to teach students to evaluate all of the choices. Readers need to toggle with the answer choices by asking, “Does this choice answer the question?”  “I think it is right because….” “I think this is not right because…”   After an answer choice is determined, readers should reread the question and their answer to be sure they’ve selected the correct response. Sometimes all of the choices are lifted from text, but only one answers the question. In some cases, the question asks the reader to identify two correct answers.
Teach these steps during your guided reading lessons. Once these strategies are internalized, they will become second nature for students.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 17th

posted Mar 17, 2019, 8:30 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Mar 17, 2019, 8:32 PM ]

Teaching Test-Taking Strategies (Part 1) 
Fantasy, mystery, biography, poetry, and informational are some of the genres we use during guided reading. Often forgotten, or maybe not considered, is teaching reading for test taking. Test taking strategies need to be taught for both reading the passage and answering the questions. This genre demands different cognitive skills that need to be taught.
First, download and print copies of the Test-Taking Strategies Cards from the Resources page of Jan’s website. There are steps for reading the passage and answering the questions.  Print the cards back to back so each student has a card to use in the lesson. 
Strategies for Reading the Passage
Step 1 - Before reading a test passage, readers should access background knowledge by previewing the text features such as the title, headings, illustrations, graphs or charts to make predictions.  This preview sets a purpose for reading. 
Step 2 – As they read the passage, students should highlight one or two key words in each paragraph. This helps them maintain focus and attention. When readers read with a pencil in hand, the result is an amped level of accountability and understanding. 
Step 3 - After reading each paragraph, students should use the key words they circled to orally summarize it. This helps them remember what they read, which will assist them when they answer the test questions.
Step 4 – Once they read the entire passage, they can use the key words to retell the entire passage. 

Written by: Karen Cangemi, Literacy Coach -

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